Posts Tagged pauliana
In C-493/18 UB v VA, proceedings took place between UB, on the one hand, and VA, Tiger SCI, WZ, as UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, and Banque patrimoine et immobilier SA, on the other, concerning the sale of immovable property originally owned by UB and mortgages granted over that property by UB and the action taken by WZ to have those transactions declared ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.
A little bit of factual background may be useful – for that reference is best made to the judgment. Essentially, an avoidance (insolvency pauliana) action was launched given suspicious transactions between UB and his sister. On 10 May 2011, UB was, on his own petition, declared bankrupt by Croydon County Court. On 1 July 2011, WZ was appointed UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, with effect from 6 July 2011. At WZ’s request, Croydon County Court authorised WZ on 26 October 2011 to bring an action before the French courts in order, first, to have the bankruptcy order registered and, second, to obtain a ruling that the sale of the properties referred to in paragraph 12 above and the mortgages granted over those properties to VA (‘the sales and mortgages at issue’) were transactions at an undervalue or for no consideration under the relevant United Kingdom bankruptcy law provisions. WZ thus sought a decision authorising the restitution of those properties to UB’s bankruptcy estate, for the purposes of their disposal. The French courts granted the declaration.
The legal issue under consideration is the reach of the Insolvency Regulation’s establishment of jurisdiction for the courts of the Member State of COMI. Does it extend to an action by a trustee in bankruptcy appointed by a court of the Member State in which the insolvency proceedings were opened (here: the UK) the purpose of which is to obtain a declaration that mortgages registered over immovable property situated in another Member State (here: France) and the sale of that property are ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.
The CJEU correctly emphasises that the Insolvency Regulation old or new does not impose any rule conferring on the courts of the place where immovable property is located international jurisdiction to hear an action for the restitution of those assets to the bankruptcy estate in insolvency proceedings. Furthermore, concentrating all the actions directly related to the insolvency proceedings before the courts of the Member State within the territory of which with those proceedings were opened is consistent with the objective of improving the efficiency and speed of insolvency proceedings having cross-border effects. Support for this ex multi: Wiemer & Trachte.
The English courts therefore should have exercised jurisdiction per vis attractiva concursus – the file before the CJEU does not reveal its hesitation to do so. It does reveal that UB claims among others that the insolvency proceedings in England had already been concluded and presumably therefore the pauliana time-barred.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 220.127.116.11.1
Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. CJEU simply applies Feniks, its forum contractus view remains unconvincing.
Update 18 July 2019 for an alternative view, see Michael McParland QC here. Michael’s point of view is that of the construction sector, and avoiding ‘debt dodging’. Ours (mine, below, and Michiel Poesen’s here) is the excessive stretch of the notion of contract.
Tanchev AG’s focus on fraus arguable reconciles both – but the Court did not follow.
I reviewed Tanchev AG’s Opinion in C‑722/17 Reitbauer here. Readers best refer to it to get insight into the complex factual matrix. The CJEU held on Wednesday last week- no English version of the judgment is as yet available.
In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction. Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.
The Court like the AG rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). They are right: A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement).
Court and AG are also right in rejecting Article 24(1) jurisdiction. The issues at stake are far removed from the reasons which justify exclusive jurisdiction. (The Court refers to Komu, Schmidt, Weber).
Then, surprisingly (for it was not part of the questions asked; the AG entertained it but that is what AGs do) the Court completes the analysis proprio motu with consideration of Article 7(1)’s forum contractus rule, with respect to claimants’ argument that the acknowledgement of debt by Isabel, cannot be used against them. Tanchev AG as I noted essentially suggested a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – arguably present here. At 59-60 the Court simply notes that all creditors were ‘contractually’ linked to Isabel C, and then applies Feniks to come to a finding of contractual relation between claimants and Mr Casamassima: without any reference to the fraus element (I had indeed suspected the Court would not so quickly vary its own case-law).
The AG did not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr Casamassima – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks). The CJEU however does, and at 61 simply identifies that as the place where the underlying contract, between Isabel C and the building contractors, had to be performed: that is, the place of the renovation works in Austria.
That an Article 7(1) forum was answered at all, is surprising. That the place of performance of that contract is straightforwardly assimilated with the underlying contractual arrangement, is not necessarily convincing. That Feniks would not so soon be varied (if at all), was to be expected.
Forum contractus is surely stretching to forum abundantum.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168
Tanchev AG in Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. Suggests restriction of CJEU Feniks to cases of fraus.
A little bit of factual background (and imagination; I shall let readers’ imagination run their course) is needed to appreciate Tanchev AG’s Opinion last week in C‑722/17 Reitbauer, which engages Articles 24(1) and (5), and Article 7(1).
It is alleged in the ‘opposition proceedings’ at issue that the claim of creditor A (the defendant in the CJEU proceeding, Mr Casamassima), which arises from a loan agreement secured by a pledge, and which competes with a counterclaim of creditors B (the applicants at the CJEU: Reitbauer and Others) is invalid due to the (wrongful) preferential treatment of creditor A. This objection is similar to what is known under Austrian law as an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage).
The defendant, Mr Casamassima and Isabel C. (‘the debtor’) are resident in Rome and lived together, at least until the spring of 2014. In 2010, they purchased a house in Villach, Austria; and the debtor, Isabel C, was registered in the land register as being the sole owner.
Contracts for extensive renovation work of the house were entered into between Isabel and the CJEU applicants, contracts which were entered into with the ‘participation’ of Mr Casamassima. Because the costs of the renovation work far exceeded the original budget, payments to Reitbauer et al were suspended. From 2013 onwards, Reitbauer et al were therefore involved in judicial proceedings in Austria against Isabel. Early 2014, the first judgment was handed down in favour of the applicants, and others followed. Isabel appealed against those judgments.
On 7 May 2014 before a court in Rome, Isabel acknowledged Mr Casamassima’s claim against her with respect to a loan agreement, amounting to EUR 349 772.95. She undertook to pay this amount to the latter within five years under a court settlement. In addition, Isabel undertook to have a mortgage registered on the house in Villach (Austria) in order to secure Mr Casamassima’s claim [the amount of the claim is the result of compensation between the original claim and a counterclaim. Isabel requested Mr C to pay her for overtime work. Mr C requested approximately EUR 380 000 for the purchase of the house and the works. According to him the house belonged formally only to the debtor, who was registered as the sole owner, but the funds were provided by the defendant. Finally, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the sum at issue].
Now we come to the issues sub judice: at 17 ff (footnotes omitted):
On 13 June 2014 a (further) certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate was drawn up under Austrian law in Vienna by an Austrian notary to guarantee the above arrangement (pledge 1). With this certificate, the pledge on the house in Villach was created on 18 June 2014.
The judgments in favour of the applicants did not become enforceable until after this date. The pledges on the house of the debtor held by the applicants, obtained by way of legal enforcement proceedings (pledge 2), therefore rank behind the contractual pledge 1 in favour of the defendant.
On 3 September 2015, the court in Rome confirmed that the court settlement of 7 May 2014 constituted a European Enforcement Order.
In order to realise the pledge, the defendant applied in February 2016 to the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach, Austria)) for an order against the debtor, requiring a compulsory auction of the house in Villach. The house was auctioned off in the autumn of 2016 for EUR 280 000. The order of entries in the land register shows that the proceeds would go more or less entirely to the defendant because of pledge 1 (registered under Austrian law in June 2014).
With a view to preventing this, the applicants brought an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage) in June 2016 before the Landesgericht Klagenfurt (Regional Court, Klagenfurt, Austria) against the defendant and the debtor. The action was dismissed by that court ‘due to a lack of international jurisdiction in view of the [debtor’s and the defendant’s] domicile’ outside of Austria. In July 2017, that decision became final.
At the same time the applicants filed an opposition before the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach)) at the hearing of 10 May 2017 regarding the distribution of the proceeds from the compulsory auction, and subsequently brought opposition proceedings, as provided for in the EO, against the defendant.
In these opposition proceedings, the applicants seek a declaration that the decision regarding the distribution to the defendant of EUR 279 980.43 was not legally valid in so far as: (i) the debtor had damages claims against the defendant of at least the same amount as the claim arising from the loan agreement, with the result that a claim no longer existed (they claim that the debtor confirmed that the defendant had placed orders with the applicants without her knowledge and consent); and (ii) the certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate of June 2014 were drawn up merely as a formality and for the purpose of pre-empting and preventing the applicants from bringing any enforcement proceedings in relation to the house.
There we are. In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction, in which case Mr C’s enforcement action has acted as a Trojan horse. (Note a similar potential in Kerr v Postnov(a)). Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.
Mr C contends in substance that A24(5) B1a does not apply. He argues that the action lacks a direct connection to official enforcement measures: what is being sought is a substantive examination of the pledge entered into in his favour. By its nature, the action lodged is equivalent to an action for avoidance; and in Reichert the CJEU has already ruled that this jurisdiction is not applicable to actions for avoidance. This must therefore also apply if the action for avoidance is exercised by way of an opposition against the distribution and ensuing opposition proceedings. Moreover, he argues A24(1) B1a is not applicable, as in the opposition proceedings the connection with the location of the house at issue is lacking (the opposition proceedings took place only after the immovable property had been auctioned off by the court).
The AG first of all at 39 ff rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). I believe he is right: see my Trojan horse suggestion above. A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement ) for which the enforcement court does not have original jurisdiction. Neither does A24(1) ground jurisdiction: parallel with Reichert is obvious.
Then however the AG, sensing perhaps the suggestions of fraudulent construction, suggests Article 7(1)’s’ forum contractus as a way out – not something which the referring court had enquired about hence quite possible the CJEU might not entertain it. Clearly per Handte there is a contract between applicants and Isabel. However is Mr C involved, too?: the AG draws on Feniks: at 72 ff: in Feniks the CJEU does not require knowledge by the defendant of the first contract, nor does it require an intention to defraud. However in casu it looks like there might be both (subject to factual review by the referring court). At 84: ‘Given the fact that in the judgment in Feniks the jurisdiction in contractual matters in disputes brought against a third party was extended to an actio pauliana even though there was no contractual relationship between the applicant and the defendant, knowledge of a third party should act as a limiting factor: as in the present case, the third party needs to know that the legal act binds the defendant to the debtor and that that causes harm to the contractual rights of another creditor of the debtor (the applicants).’
And at 92: ‘the defendant’s knowledge of the existence of the contract(s) at issue is important.’
The AG is essentially suggesting a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – it is unlikely that the CJEU will follow (and vary Feniks so soon). However it is clear that knowledge of the contract between the other parties, particularly where supported by elements of fraus, will increase the potential for application of the (in my view problematic) Feniks route. Note the AG does not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr C – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124
Court confirms: tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.
I am hoping to catch-up with my blog backlog this week, watch this space. I’ll kick off with the Court of Justice last week confirming in C–535/17 NK v BNP Paribias Fortis that the Peeters /Gatzen suit is covered by Brussels I Recast. Citing similar reasons as Bobek AG (whose Opinion I reviewed here), the Court at 34 concludes that the ‘action is based on the ordinary rules of civil and commercial law and not on the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings.’
This reply cancelled out the need for consideration of many of the issues which the AG did discuss – those will have to wait for later cases.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.
Vis (non) attractiva concursus. Bobek AG suggests tortious suit brought by liquidator (‘Peeters /Gatzen’) is covered by Brussels I Recast.
I earlier posted a guest blog on the qualification of the Dutch Peeters /Gatzen suit, a damages claim based on tort, brought by a liquidator against a third party having acted wrongfully towards the creditors. Bobek AG opined two weeks back in C-535/17 NK (insolvency practitioner for a baillif practice) v BNP Paribas Fortis.
His Opinion is of relevance not just for the consideration of jurisdiction, but perhaps even more so (for less litigated so far) for the analysis of applicable law.
Roel Verheyden has commented on the Opinion in Dutch here, and Sandrine Piet had earlier contextualised the issues (also in Dutch) here. She clarifies that the suit was introduced by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1983, allowing the insolvency practitioner (as EU insolvency law now calls them) to claim in tort against third parties whose actions have diminished the collective rights of the creditors, even if the insolvency person or company at issue was not entitled to such suit. The Advocate General himself, in his trademark lucid style, summarises the suit excellently.
Importantly, the Peeters /Gatzen is not a classic pauliana (avoidance) suit: Bobek AG at 16: ‘The power of the liquidator to bring a Peeters-Gatzen action is not limited to cases where the third party belongs to the circle of persons who, based on a Paulian (bankruptcy) claim .. would be liable for involvement in allegedly detrimental acts. The liquidator’s competence relates more generally to the damage caused to the general body of creditors by the wrongful act of a third party involved in causing that damage. The third party need not have caused the damage or have profited from it: it is sufficient that that third party could have prevented the damage but cooperated instead.’
In the case at issue, the third party is BNP Paribas Fortis, who had allowed the sole director of the company to withdraw large amounts of cash from the company’s account.
Firstly, on the jurisdictional issue, Nickel /Goeldner and Nortel had intervened after the interim judgments of the Dutch courts, creating doubt in their minds as to the correct delineation between the Insolvency and Brussels I Recast Regulation. The Advocate-General’s approach in my view is the correct one, and I refer to his Opinion for the solid arguments he deploys. In essence, the DNA of the suit are the ordinary rules of civil law (re: tort). That it be introduced by the insolvency practitioner (here, the liquidator) and that it is the case-law on liquidation proceedings which has granted that right to the liquidator, is not materially relevant. Note that the AG correctly adds in footnote 40 that even if the suit is not subject to the Insolvency Regulation, that Regulation does not disappear from the litigation. In particular, given that liquidation proceedings are underway, the lex concursus determines the ius agendi of the liquidator to bring the suit in tort, in another Member State (Belgium, on the basis of Article 7(2) or 4 Brussels I Recast).
Now, for applicable law, the AG first of all completes the analysis on the basis of the Insolvency Regulation, in the unlikely event the CJEU were not to follow him on the jurisdictional issue. Here (para 85 ff) the referring court wishes to know whether, if the Peeters-Gatzen action is covered by the Insolvency Regulation, such a claim would be governed, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that Regulation, by the law of the Member State where the insolvency proceedings were opened as regards both the power of the liquidator to bring that claim and the substantive law applicable to that claim. This question seeks to determine whether it is possible to follow the approach of the second-instance court in the main proceedings, and separate the law governing the powers of the liquidator (ius agendi) from the law applicable to the merits of the claim. The powers of the liquidator would then be governed by the lex fori concursus (Dutch law, per Article 4(2)(c) Insolvency Regulation). That article states that ‘the law of the State of the opening of proceedings … shall determine in particular … the respective powers of the debtor and the liquidator’. However, the merits of the claim would then be governed by the law applicable by virtue of the general (non-insolvency) conflict of law rules. In the present case that would lead to application of residual Dutch conflict of law rules, because the Rome II Regulation does not apply ratione temporis as the AG further explains. These rules lead to Belgian law being the lex causae.
Within the assumption of the Insolvency Regulation determining jurisdiction (for see footnote 40 as reported above, re ius agendi) the AG emphasises the Regulation’s goal of Gleichlauf: at 89: If the Peeters-Gatzen action were covered by the Insolvency Regulation, all its elements would be governed exclusively by the conflict of law rules of that regulation.
(Current) Article 16’s exception such as in Nike and Lutz does not come into play for as Bobek AG notes at 94, ‘It is difficult to see how the Peeters-Gatzen action at issue in the main proceedings could be qualified as a rule ‘relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors’, in the sense of Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the Insolvency Regulation. The purpose of such an action is not a declaration of the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act of the third party, but the recovery of damages based on the wrongful behaviour of that third party towards the creditors. Therefore, as Article 4(2)(m) [old, GAVC] of the regulation would not apply in the main proceedings, the exception in Article 13 [old, GAVC] could not apply either.’
The AG finally discusses the referring court’s question whether if the Peeters-Gatzen action is exclusively subject to the lex fori concursus, it would be possible to take into account, whether directly or at least by analogy, and on the basis of Article 17 Rome II read in conjunction with Article 13 (now 16) of the Insolvency Regulation, the security regulations and codes of conduct applicable at the place of the alleged wrongful act (that is to say, in Belgium), such as financial rules of conduct for banks. Article 17 Rome II reads ‘In assessing the conduct of the person claimed to be liable, account shall be taken, as a matter of fact and in so far as is appropriate, of the rules of safety and conduct which were in force at the place and time of the event giving rise to the liability.‘
I have argued before that Article 17 Rome II does not have the rather extensive impact which some attribute to it. The AG, after signalling that the Article is yet to be applied by the CJEU, notes that Rome II does not apply here ratione temporis. He then concludes with an aside (it is not articulated as a proper argument – which is just as well for it is circular I suppose): at 104: ‘the more pertinent question is… whether it is really necessary to have recourse to a cumbersome legal construction, in this case the application of rules by analogy, outside of their material and temporal scope, in order to reach a solution (the application of Belgian law) which solves a problem (the applicability of Netherlands law by virtue of the Insolvency Regulation) that should not have been created in the first place (since the Peeters-Gatzen claim at hand should fall within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation). In any event, I am of the view, also in this regard, that these questions by the referring court rather confirm that there is no close connection between that action and the insolvency proceedings.’
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.1, Heading 5.7.
I called Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-337/17 ‘solid’ – by which I also implied: convincing. Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?
Bobek AG Opined it is not. The CJEU today held it is. I disagree.
Firstly, the second chamber, at 29 ff, repeats the inaccurate references in Valach and Tunkers, that (at 30) ‘actions which fall outside the scope of [the Insolvency Regulation] fall within the scope of [Brussels I Recast].’ This oft repeated quote suggest dovetailing between the two Regulations, a view which is patently incorrect: readers can use the tag ‘dovetail’ or ‘arrangement’ (for ‘scheme of arrangement’) for my view on same; see e.g. Agrokor.
Having held (this was not seriously in doubt) that Brussels I Recast is engaged, the Court then takes a much wider view of the Handte formula than advocated by Bobek AG. The Court at 37 refers to Granarolo, merely in fact to emphasise the requirement of strict interpretation of the jurisdictional rules which vary Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei’s rule. At 43 follows the core of its reasoning: ‘By [the pauliana] the creditor seeks a declaration that the transfer of assets by the debtor to a third party has caused detriment to the creditor’s rights deriving from the binding nature of the contract and which correspond with the obligations freely consented to by the debtor. The cause of this action therefore lies essentially in the breach of these obligations towards the creditor to which the debtor agreed.’
The Court does not refer to Ergo, let alone to Sharpston AG’s ‘centre of gravity’ test in same, however it would seem that this may have influenced it. Yet in my view this is way too extensive a stretch of the Handte or Sharpston AG’s Ergo formula. Litigation in the pauliana pitches the creditor against the third party. It would take really quite specific circumstances for Handte to be met in the relation between these two. That a contractual relation features somewhere in the factual matrix is almost always true.
For a comparative benchmark, reference can be made to Refcomp where the Court took a very limiting view on subrogration of choice of court.
The Court’s formulation at 45 is entirely circular: were the creditor not able to sue in the forum contractus, ‘the creditor would be forced to bring proceedings before the court of the place where the defendant is domiciled, that forum, as prescribed by Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012, possibly having no link to the place of performance of the obligations of the debtor with regard to his creditor.’ Indeed: because the pauliana does not mordicus have to links to that place; it is not because it might not, that a forum contractus has to be conjured up to secure these links.
The Court then quite forcefully and seemingly without much hesitation identifies a specific forum contractus (unlike the AG who had suggested that that very difficulty supports his view that there simply is no forum contractus to speak of): at 46: ‘the action brought by the creditor aims to preserve its interests in the performance of the obligations derived from the contract concerning construction works, it follows that ‘the place of performance of the obligation in question’ is, according to Article 7(1)(b) of this regulation, the place where, under the contract, the construction services were provided, namely Poland.’ This is an even further stretch: Feniks invested in Coliseum with a view to the latter conducting construction works, which it largely outsourced to subcontractors. The contract between Feniks and Coliseum was one of investment; not one of construction. Yet the even further downstream construction works now serve as forum contractus for the Pauliana. I just do not understand that.
The initial contractual obligation between creditor and debtor therefore creates crucial jurisdictional consequences vis-a-vis third parties whose appearance in the factual matrix presents itself only very downstream. That, I would suggest, does not at all serve the predictability which the Chamber (rightly) emphasises at the very outset of its judgment as being the driving principle behind its interpretation.
I am not convinced by this judgment. (And yes, I am being polite).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199
Feniks: Bobek AG rejects forum contractus for Actio Pauliana and defends predictability of the Brussels regime.
Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?
Bobek AG Opined in C-337/17 Feniks v Azteca on 21 June. His Opinion features among others a legal history class on the action pauliana, and eventually a justifiable conclusion: the action is not one in contract. In C-115/88 Reichert I the Court held that the French civil law actio pauliana does not fall within exclusive jurisdiction concerning rights in rem in immovable property (Article 24(1). Soon afterwards, the Court added in C-261/90 Reichert II that the same actio pauliana was neither a provisional measure nor an action bringing proceedings concerned with the enforcement of a judgment. It was also not a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict.
That left only the potential for a forum contractus to be decided.
The AG reviews a number of arguments to come to his decision. One of those I find particularly convincing: at 62: assuming that the applicability of the head of jurisdiction for matters relating to a contract were to be contemplated, the question that immediately arises is which of the two contracts potentially involved should be taken as relevant? To which of the two contracts would an actio pauliana in fact relate? Among others (at 69-70) Sharpston AG’s Opinion in Ergo is discussed in this respect and the AG in my view is right when he dismisses the contractual relations at issue as an anchor point.
At 69 the AG also adds a knock-out point which could logically have come at the very beginning of the Opinion:
‘it should also be added and underlined that both approaches outlined above fail to satisfy the requirement of ‘obligation freely assumed by one party towards another’, [the AG refers to Handte, GAVC] that is by the Defendant towards the Applicant. Even if the case-law of this Court does not require that there is identity between the parties to the proceeding and to the respective contract, it appears difficult to consider that the mere filing of an actio pauliana creates a substantive-law relationship between the Applicant and the Defendant resulting from, for example, some kind of legal subrogation founded by an act of COLISEUM (as the Applicant’s initial debtor).’
Readers further may want to take note of para 92: the AG’s view to treat the power of recitals with caution. The AG ends at 97-98 with a robust defence of the Brussels regime, with specific reference to the common law (footnotes omitted):
‘What has to be sought is a principled answer that applies largely independently of the factual elements in an individual case. While fully acknowledging and commending the attractive flexibility of rules such as forum(non) conveniens that allow for derogation in the light of the facts of a specific case, the fact remains that the structure and the logic of the Brussels Convention and Regulations is indeed built on different premises. What is understandably needed in a diverse legal space composed of 28 legal orders are ex ante reasonably foreseeable, and thus perhaps somewhat inflexible rules at times, and less of an ex post facto explanation (mostly as to why one declared oneself competent) heavily dependent on a range of factual elements.
All in all, in the current state of EU law, actio pauliana seems to be one of the rare examples that only allows for the applicability of the general rule and an equally rare confirmation of the fact that ‘… there is no obvious foundation for the idea that there should always or even often be an alternative to the courts of the defendant’s domicile’. ‘
A solid opinion with extra reading for the summer season (on the Pauliana).
Vinyls Italia. A boon for conflict of laws (with a fraus component) and important findings on the insolvency Pauliana.
Another one from the exam queue. I reported earlier on Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-54/16 Vinyls Italia – readers may want to refer tot that post before reading on. The case concerns the extent to which a bona fide creditor may insulate payments made to it by the insolvent debtor, to the detriment of the collectivity of the creditors, using choice of law for its contract with the debtor away from the lex concursus. The Court held on 8 June, much along the lines of its AG and earlier precedent especially Nike with respect to anti-avoidance actions. The judgment therefore is not of great novelty for this part of the insolvency Regulation. It is on the other hand of crucial importance for the interpretation of ‘international’ in European private international law.
Firstly, whether the court hearing the insolvency proceedings can or must raise the Article 13 (now 16) even if the party profiting from the insulation of its payments from the insolvency, has failed expressly to do so in its submissions. This, the CJEU held, is a matter of procedure, not harmonised in the Insolvency Regulation and lex fori therefore, subject to the usual condition that effet utile is guaranteed and that EU law is equally applied as national law.
The Court had already held in Nike that the defendant in an anti-avoidance (Pauliana) action has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25). The Court in Vinyls Italia qualifies that statement: the party bearing the burden of proof must show that, where the lex causae makes it possible to challenge an act regarded as being detrimental, the conditions to be met in order for that challenge to be upheld, which differ from those of the lex fori concursus, have not actually been fulfilled. However defendant does not have to show that the lex causae does not provide, in general or in the abstract, any means to challenge the act in question: such means of challenging the act almost always exist, at least in the abstract, and such strict interpretation would therefore deprive Article 13 (now 16) of its effectiveness (at 38). Of course how wide exactly the net of voidness needs to be cast, is not entirely clear from the judgment.
The final question then deals with the possibility of relying on (now) Article 16 in the situation provided for in Article 3(3) of the Rome I Regulation, that is to say, where all the elements relevant to the situation in question between the parties to a contract are located in a country other than the country whose law is chosen by those parties. Now, the Rome I Regulation does not ratione temporis apply to the facts at issue and on the similar provisions of the Rome Convention, the referring court is not entitled to ask questions. The CJEU therefore decides to simply reply to the question of this being a purely domestic contract, by reference to Article 16 of the insolvency Regulation only. It nevertheless however uses both Regulation and Convention a contrario. Both existed at the time of adoption of the Insolvency Regulation. The latter does not include an Article 3(3) type provision. That it does not, must, the Court held, mean that the Insolvency Regulation saw no need at all to limit the use of lex contractus for insulation reasons, even in the case of purely domestic contracts.
There is however one condition: Fraus (omnia corrumpit) aka abuse of (EU) law. Here, the Court refers to its findings last summer in C‑423/15 Kratzer. EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends. A finding of abuse requires a combination of objective and subjective elements. First, with regard to the objective element, that finding requires that it must be apparent from a combination of objective circumstances that, despite formal observance of the conditions laid down by EU rules, the purpose of those rules has not been achieved. Second, such a finding requires a subjective element, namely that it must be apparent from a number of objective factors that the essential aim of the transactions concerned is to obtain an undue advantage.
Here, Article 16 may be disregarded only in a situation where it would appear objectively that the objective pursued by that application, in this context, of ensuring the legitimate expectation of the parties in the applicability of specific legislation, has not been achieved (a tough condition if the lex contractus is wisely chosen), and that the contract was made subject to the law of a specific Member State artificially, that is to say, with the primary aim, not of actually making that contract subject to the legislation of the chosen Member State, but of relying on the law of that Member State in order to exempt the contract, or the acts which took place in the performance of the contract, from the application of the lex fori concursus. In this respect (at 55), choice of law of a Member State other than the Member State in which parties are established does not create any presumption regarding an intention to circumvent the rules on insolvency for abusive or fraudulent ends.
The findings on fraus amount to strong support for a wide interpretation of the concept ‘international’ in EU private international law. (That an entirely Italian situation was made ‘international’ simply by choice of law ex-Italy was not considered an issue). A development to be applauded. These same findings also make it very difficult within the context of Article 13 (now 16) successfully to mount a challenge of payments detrimental to the collectivity. This aspect of the case is what i.a. Gilles Lindemans objects to in the judgment. However the CJEU logic I suppose lies in what it sees firmly as the object and purpose of Article 16: it protects the legitimate expectations of the party who has benefitted from an act detrimental to all the creditors. In some way it prevents contractual sclerosis for parties suspected of being close to payment issues. Securitisation is facilitated if the lex causae is fixed, independent of the lex concursus. Not just fraus (a very improbable route now) but probably more importantly the burden of proof per C-310/14 Nike, protects the collectivity.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1. Chapter 3, Heading 188.8.131.52.
Postscript for an example of where Article 4(2)m, lex fori concursus for rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors, applies without correction, see C-594/14 Kornhaas.
In my posting on Lutz I flagged the increasing relevance of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation. This Article neutralises the lex concursus in favour of the lex causae governing the act between a person (often a company) benefiting from an act detrimental to all the creditors, and the insolvent company. Classic example is a payment made by the insolvent company to one particular creditor. Evidently this is detrimental to the other creditors, who are confronted with reduced means against which they can exercise their rights. Article 13 reads
Detrimental acts. Article 4(2)(m) shall not apply where the person who benefited from an act detrimental to all the creditors provides proof that: – the said act is subject to the law of a Member State other than that of the State of the opening of proceedings, and – that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.
In the case at issue, C-310/14, Nike (incorporated in The Netherlands) had a franchise agreement with Sportland Oy, a Finnish company. This agreement is governed by Dutch law (through choice of law). Sportland paid for a number of Nike deliveries. Payments went ahead a few months before and after the opening of the insolvency proceedings. Sportland’s liquidator attempts to have the payments annulled, and to have Nike reimburse.
Under Finnish law, para 10 of the Law on recovery of assets provides that the payment of a debt within three months of the prescribed date may be challenged if it is paid with an unusual means of payment, is paid prematurely, or in an amount which, in view of the amount of the debtor’s estate, may be regarded as significant. Under Netherlands law, according to Article 47 of the Law on insolvency (Faillissementswet), the payment of an outstanding debt may be challenged only if it is proven that when the recipient received the payment he was aware that the application for insolvency proceedings had already been lodged or that the payment was agreed between the creditor and the debtor in order to give priority to that creditor to the detriment of the other creditors.
Nike first of all argued, unsuccessfully in the Finnish courts, that the payment was not ‘unusual’. The Finnish courts essentially held that under relevant Finnish law, the payment was unusual among others because the amount paid was quite high in relation to the overall assets of the company. Nike argues in subsidiary order that Dutch law, the lex causae of the franchise agreement, should be applied. Attention then focussed (and the CJEU held on) the burden of proof under Article 13, as well as the exact meaning of ‘that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.‘
Firstly, the Finnish version of the Regulation seemingly does not include wording identical or similar to ‘in the relevant case‘ (Article 13 in fine). Insisting on a restrictive interpretation of Article 13, which it had also held in Lutz, the CJEU held that all the circumstances of the cases need to be taken into account. The person profiting from the action cannot solely rely ‘in a purely abstract manner, on the unchallengeable character of the act at issue on the basis of a provision of the lex causae‘ (at 21).
Related to this issue the referring court had actually quoted the Virgos Schmit report, which reads in relevant part (at 137) ‘By “any means” it is understood that the act must not be capable of being challenged using either rules on insolvency or general rules of the national law applicable to the act’. This interpretation evidently reduces the comfort zone for the party who benefitted from the act. It widens the search area, so to speak. It was suggested, for instance, that Dutch law in general includes a prohibition of abuse of rights, which is wider than the limited circumstances of the Faillissementswet, referred to above.
The CJEU surprisingly does not quote the report however it does come to a similar conclusion: at 36: ‘the expression ‘does not allow any means of challenging that act …’ applies, in addition to the insolvency rules of the lex causae, to the general provisions and principles of that law, taken as a whole.’
Attention then shifted to the burden of proof: which party is required to plead that the circumstances for application of a provision of the lex causae leading to voidness, voidability or unenforceability of the act, do not exist? The CJEU held on the basis of Article 13’s wording and overall objectives that it is for the defendant in an action relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act to provide proof, on the basis of the lex causae, that the act cannot be challenged. Tthe defendant has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25).
However, (at 27) ‘although Article 13 of the regulation expressly governs where the burden of proof lies, it does not contain any provisions on more specific procedural aspects. For instance, that article does not set out, inter alia, the ways in which evidence is to be elicited, what evidence is to be admissible before the appropriate national court, or the principles governing that court’s assessment of the probative value of the evidence adduced before it.‘
‘(T)he issue of determining the criteria for ascertaining whether the applicant has in fact proven that the act can be challenged falls within the procedural autonomy of the relevant Member State, regard being had to the principles of effectiveness and equivalence.’ (at 44)
The Court therefore once again bumps into the limits of autonomous interpretation. How ad hoc, concrete (as opposed to ‘in the abstract’: see the CJEU’s words, above) the defendant has to be in providing proof (and foreign expert testimony with it), may differ greatly in the various Member States. Watch this space for more judicial review of Article 13.
Postscript 7 December 2015: Bob Wessels has annotated the case here.